Greece is the Word

July 6, 2011

My husband was born and raised in Greece, and I absolutely love the dimension that getting to know his culture and a bit of the Greek language has added to my life.  His immediate family all still live there, so we are very privileged to be able to travel to Greece every couple of years for a visit.  I can’t even describe how delicious the food is, how warm and generous the people are, how turquoise the sea is.  Despite all the difficulties Greece is having these days, I have always found it to be a jewel of a country.

When my daughter was born, however, I got a bit nervous.  We have a dear friend in Greece who is a teacher, and we heard stories of the absence of inclusion for children with disabilities.  As you can imagine, with the economic crisis, there does not seem to be a lot of financial support either for therapy or for educational assistants.  I think the saddest story I heard was about parents whose son had autism who went from school to school–public and private– begging principals to accept him.  They even offered to pay for an aide themselves to attend school with their child just so that he could be educated along with everyone else.  Finally at the age of 12, he was accepted somewhere, but up until that point, he had had no formal education.   I can’t even imagine the humiliation and despair those experiences must have brought upon the parents, not to mention the long-term damage to their son; and for that reason, I was a bit tentative the first time we travelled to Greece with our daughter last summer.  If that was the attitude of the society, how would they treat us? 

My fears were completely unfounded.  Rarely in my life have I felt such warmth and love.  The culture is different and perhaps not as open in some ways. Even our closest friends did not bring up the topic of Down syndrome at all for the first while we were there, as opposed to here where it had been the main focus of conversations for the previous 2 years.  I almost couldn’t remember what we talked about before!

Greek people seem to love babies and are very affectionate — something that I don’t think I’m really used to in North America.  Strangers were squeezing Rachel’s cheeks and asking to hold her and making cooing noises at her.  If I had been in Canada, I probably would have whisked her away fearing she would catch something, but she loved the attention, so I was pleased for her to get it.  Once we started talking about it, our friends told us that they had had discussions with others about the positive approach we were taking in Canada, and it impressed upon me what an influence my daughter’s little life was having half a world away. 

Last week among the news reports of financial ruin and riots in Athens, a brighter story emerged– that of the Special Olympics.  For the first time in its history, this amazing sporting event was held in the birthplace of the Olympics.  I don’t know a lot about the Special Olympics, but to me it symbolizes pure Hope.  When Rachel was born, amid all the well-intentioned folks who told us how happy she was bound to be and how she might even get married one day, there were those few who would proudly tell us something like, “My neighbour’s son has Down syndrome.  He’s in the Special Olympics.  He’s an amazing swimmer.”  Not knowing what to expect with a child who had Down syndrome, it was beyond comforting to see what esteem these people had for the athletes they knew. What thanks we owe to Eunice Shriver who created a venue for people with Down syndrome and their peers to shine.  My daughter may never be an athlete–she is related to me after all–but the Special Olympics teaches us to never sell someone short.  Her own gifts and talents will emerge over time, and we will be there to cheer her on.

I saw the video of Special Olympics highlights today and was so moved.  I loved hearing the Greek and English sung together and seeing the smiles on faces that resemble my daughter’s.  Congratulations Athens for making dreams come true for so many despite having such challenges of your own.  It will be interesting to see if the Special Olympics will bring changes in attitudes about individuals with disabilities.  After all, we’ve already seen firsthand how one little girl can earn the love of so many.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

carole spyridaki July 7, 2011 at 2:41 am

Heather, again you fill us, express us, educate us, share so beautifully!
i fear that the majority of Greeks gave very little attention to the Special Olympics, as they were drowned out by economic news and chaos.
On some levels, tho, they were seen and heard, and surely every contact is a step in the right direction, as i feel so often in my everyday life here.
I find it irresistible to not share Rachel and her accomplishments with my Greek world, and you keep my grandma’s photo album full of fresh views of her and those doings. Through this blog, you fill my mind and heart even more.
Thank you so much.
carole s.

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Heather July 7, 2011 at 5:52 am

Thank you for your comment – and your Greek perspective!

Yes, I fear the Special Olympics doesn’t get much coverage in general. Alex follows all the sports feeds and didn’t see anything about it. A shame, really…

Ah well… I think minds have to change a few at a time – there must have been a lot of people working to make the event happen over there. Hopefully that will help!

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Maureen Braun July 7, 2011 at 8:53 am

Carol, how lucky Heather is to have you for a mother- in-law.

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carole spyridaki July 7, 2011 at 9:09 am

I hope so, Maureen, thank you!
so many of us are so very, very ‘lucky’ to have Heather!
She’s……..indescribable!
guess we all agree: Go, Heather! GO!

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Heather July 7, 2011 at 10:10 am

Thanks MIL! We’re lucky to have each other…. XOXO

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Heather July 7, 2011 at 10:09 am

There should be a “like” button here! Absolutely! Carole is our greatest supporter!

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Denise July 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Thanks for the story Heather and for sharing that moving video. I cried through the whole thing it was wonderful to see!

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Heather July 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I know – I cried too. Loved seeing how happy and proud the family members were too!

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Margaret July 8, 2011 at 1:43 am

Beautifully written Heather. There is such joy in that video–thank you for sharing.

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Heather July 8, 2011 at 5:37 am

Thanks Margaret! Glad you paid us a visit! :)

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Sue Comstock July 9, 2011 at 5:30 am

A “GOLD MEDAL” article for sure.

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Heather July 9, 2011 at 6:46 am

Thank you, Sue! What a lovely comment! ;)

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nisha360 July 9, 2011 at 7:55 am

Hey Heather I found your blog on Love That Max and I just wanted to say you are a great mom :) I am Nisha – a twenty-year-old blogger and aspiring author and philantropist who also happens to have Cerebral Palsy :)

From South Africa with love,
Nisha

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Heather July 9, 2011 at 8:03 am

Hi Nisha! I’m so excited you found us here – thank you for commenting. It made my day! Will definitely check out your blog! All the best with your writing!

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